Prestonkirk | Environment

Wildlife | Townscapes, Buildings & Landscapes of Distinction

The historical ecclesiastical parish boundary of Prestonkirk changed in September 1999 to become the new ecclesiastical parish of Traprain. Its boundary had been largely unchanged since the 12th century. The community of East Linton evolved from the separate settlements of Lintoun (the settlement by the torrent), and Preston (the Priests’ settlement). While the boundary of the burgh had been extended in the 1940s, it was only in 1975 that the separate burgh and county council housing areas of the community came under one local authority. East Linton’s location at the centre of a productive agricultural area where the main road and rail links between Edinburgh and the south crossed the river Tyne had a major part to play in its expansion in the late 19th and 20th centuries.

The main change in appearance in the parish in the period under review relates to the growth in housing and the changes in farming use of the land. The removal of many hedges and fences has resulted in much larger fields on many farms in the parish. Much of this work was done at a time when there was a cry to produce more food and for which grants were given to remove the old field boundaries.

After the major flood of the river Tyne in 1948, the old weir above the Linn Rocks was washed away and significantly changed the appearance and flow of the river at this picturesque spot.

Studies of climatic change have taken on a new significance across the world as a result of what has been described as ‘the greenhouse effect’ but microclimate details are also of significance. The walls of Preston Mill have references to flood levels in significant years such as 1966, 1983, 1990, 1992 and the great flood of 1948. The traditional game of outdoor curling has only been recorded three times: in 1947 on the Tyne; in 1982 on the lake at Smeaton; and on Markle Loch in 1985. Smeaton Lake was associated with outdoor curling in the 19th century but the tall trees there now provide protection from frost. The big gales of 1968 and Boxing Day 1998 are memorable because some significant trees at Smeaton-Hepburn estate were blown down. However, wind strength was not the only reason for these losses. Other factors such as wind direction, sodden ground, trees still in leaf or loss of tree protection could also have contributed to the environmental damage. Rainfall patterns recorded at Markle Mains from 1985-2000 are available but, as the following extract shows, it is difficult to draw firm conclusions for such a short period.

Extract of Rainfall Statistics at Markle Mains 1985-2000

Wettest Years mm inches Driest Years mm inches
1985 803 32.12 1989 414 16.56
2000 775 31.00 1996 421 16.84
1994 774 30.96 1991 456 18.24
1990 735 29.40 1993 473 18.92
1998 731 29.24 1999 530 21.20

Source: Tom Middlemass, farmer

Significant changes have been observed in wildlife in the years towards the end of the 20th century. The following is a summary based mainly on the observations of Rosemary Wilkes since 1985 from her home adjacent to Preston Mill.


  • increase in rabbits in the last five years – perhaps less susceptible to myxomatosis
  • fewer hedgehogs
  • presence of mink on the river Tyne
  • reappearance of the otters within the last five years after a long absence
  • decrease in hares – frequently killed on roads?
  • several badgers’ setts in the parish
  • roe deer continue to be found in the area and it is estimated that there are at least 20 on the Markle Mains farm area in 2000


  • disappearance of lapwing? – but 180 were counted at Markle on 25 September 2001
  • scarcity of skylarks within the past ten years
  • fall in number of song thrushes – wetter summers seem to help numbers
  • fewer migrating fieldfares, redwings
  • fewer house sparrows
  • tree sparrows seem to be sustaining themselves
  • substantial increase in collared doves through the 1980s followed by a slow decline; in 2001, there were about 20 in the garden area. They are prey for sparrow hawks
  • increase in sparrow hawks in the 1990s
  • reappearance of buzzards in the past three years
  • increase in blue tits, great tits and coal tits in the past ten years
  • great spotted woodpecker feeds regularly on the bird feeder and in the last two years has brought a young one
  • siskins are regular visitors and seem to have increased
  • goldfinches seem to have taken to eating peanuts about five years ago. They appear more common in winter
  • chaffinch, blackbird, robin, dunnock and wren appear stable in numbers
  • increase in wood pigeon in garden; these are less shy than previously
  • increase in crows and jackdaws especially in winter and breeding season
  • decrease in numbers of sedge warblers. Only one heard downstream from Preston Mill in 2000, compared with three to four singing in spring
  • no sightings of spotted flycatcher in the past three years
  • considerable decrease in numbers of swallows and house martins. No swallows now at Preston Mill as the top of the kiln has been blocked with chicken wire for health and safety reasons


  • increase in number of Orange Tip butterfly in spring from about 1990
  • decrease in butterfly numbers but increase of Peacock Blue in 2001
  • Silver Y moths seem to have been very common in garden in recent years


  • appearance of Himalayan balsam along the banks of the Tyne in past ten years
  • disappearance of weeds such as field pansy
  • increase in coarse weeds such as cleavers, creeping thistle and decline in road verge flowers
  • disappearance of casual wildflowers around public areas. Herb Robin which used to grow around Preston Mill has been almost eradicated

No simple solution to explain these changes is possible. The use of herbicides is controversial and where ‘set-aside’ is sown in spring, there is evidence of a wide diversity of a weed seed bank, including rampant field pansy. Other factors are considered to be:

  • removal of hedges
  • damage to hedges with herbicide
  • removal of ridges and banks in field by bulldozing or ploughing
  • disappearance of headlands because of ploughing practice
  • damage to natural drainage system; eg at Overhailes, there is now a serious soil erosion problem. Some of the agricultural drains and cundies are well over 100 years old and have filled up and need replacing, which is now a costly exercise
  • pollution of the river Tyne with topsoil
  • engineering of the banks of the Tyne to stop flooding of fields is changing the appearance and ecology of the river
  • use of fertiliser close to the river
  • increased irrigation. Potatoes are regularly irrigated and more vegetables now being grown require more water.

One of the hidden treasures in the landscape is the lake walk at Smeaton-Hepburn estate, first developed in 1830 by the Buchan-Hepburn family. In 1998, with the financial assistance from the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme, the path to the south of the lake was upgraded and made safer for public access. Several of the trees are noted as special in national registers. Until 1968, the estate had a Coast Redwood tree, (Sequoia sempervirens,) which was a first introduction in Britain in 1844. This was the tree species John Muir was to fall in love with later when he settled in California but it was planted here before his family emigrated from Dunbar. The Abies pindrow var. brefolia on the south of the lake walk, also planted in 1844 from the Himalayas, is another first introduction to Britain according to Alan Mitchell in his records on champion trees in Britain.

The area has benefited from the personal care and enthusiasm of George and Anne Gray and has attracted the interest of noted horticulturists and plantsmen in the past. In a different way, the loch at Markle, formed in the 1980s, has been extended and developed to provide an attractive fishing resource, which is now well supported by visiting parties of anglers.

Traprain Law is of special national significance as an important prehistoric monument. It has been a centre of human activity for at least 6,000 years. But it is also listed as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for botanical, geological (‘unique’) and physiographical reasons, although the last entry in the citation under ref. N 57/2 was for 1972. The entry reads as follows:

The mineral rich grassland on the volcanic plug supports more plant species than any other grassland of its type in East Lothian. Unimproved grassland is a rare and declining habitat in the district. The site supports a number of uncommon vascular plants and a unique assemblage of mosses and liverworts.

Geologically, the site is important as a laccolith of trachytic phonolite of Calciferous Sandstone age (Lower Carboniferous) unique in the British Isles. It is also an excellent example of a crag and tail formation resulting from Pleistocene glaciation (see also Archaeological Developments & Discoveries at Traprain Law by Fraser Hunter).

Townscapes, Buildings & Landscapes of Distinction

The wider perspective of the county council and the key contribution of the planning officer, Frank Tindall, and his concept of strategic planning became the foundation of a significant change to the East Linton environment. The East Linton Conservation Area has been accorded ‘outstanding’ status by Historic Scotland; an East Lothian Council report written in 1998 described it as possessing ‘one of the finest and least altered townscapes of any small town in East Lothian.’

In 1971, East Linton Council bought land at Stories Park and demolished the buildings on the old slaughterhouse site for further housing development. However, the possibility of taking these plans forward was already limited as further reform of local government was anticipated. Negotiation and the use of networks of influence were becoming essential skills to small councils. The site could not be accessed unless there was agreement to give up land by the local authority committee responsible for Prestonkirk Home. A crucial site meeting had to be arranged with key members of the Social Work Committee for East Lothian, Midlothian and Peebles with the help of county council leaders. While the access to the land was then agreed, the finance was only provided because of the urgent need to provide land to house the incoming workers who were to build and operate Torness nuclear power station in 1980.

Dunbar, East Linton and Haddington were to receive the benefit of the cash as part of the Economic Expansion (Torness) Housebuilding Programme but the development had to be undertaken by the former Scottish Special Housing Association and would not be available for local housing need. A total of 25 houses were eventually constructed by J. Smart & Co on this difficult site, with the development being given an award for its design.

Significant buildings in the town that have changed their use have been Prestonkirk Home, the former schoolhouse and police station and the former St Andrew’s church. The former Linton Lodge hotel, later to be renamed the Harvester’s hotel, has reverted to private use; the Bridgend (previously the Red Lion) hotel and the Crown now offer hotel accommodation to visitors while ‘Kiloran House’ with its doctor’s surgery (once named ‘Kingsburgh’ and home to the owner of Kingsburgh market garden), is now a bed and breakfast facility for the tourist and visitor.

Crauchie farm steading, 1968. Threshing mill chimney, horse mill and granary

Crauchie farm steading, 1968.
Threshing mill chimney, horse mill and granary

Within the wider parish, improvement to farm cottages and steadings has developed as these buildings ceased to be needed in agriculture and became attractive to developers and owners, either for sale such as at Markle, Waughton, Crauchie, Drylawhill and Kippielaw or for rent such as at Traprain, Sunnyside, Cairndinnis and Markle Mains. Elsewhere, it is agricultural land that has been lost to the housing expansion, except for the former market garden land at Kingsburgh and The Orchard.

Kiln at Preston Mill (Sonia Baker)

Kiln at Preston Mill (Sonia Baker)

In the parish a number of historic buildings of distinction (or their remains) can be seen. The remains of the 13th century Hailes Castle are in the care of Historic Scotland, and the castle is open to the public. The Earl of Balfour gifted it to the then Ministry of Works in 1926. Since the war, little has been done to the property other than basic maintenance, except for the insertion of masonry to support the entrance through the outer walls to the courtyard. Hailes Castle remains a romantic ruin on the banks of the Tyne, its links to Mary Queen of Scots further enhancing its image.

Preston Mill is perhaps the building most photographed and painted in East Linton, having been restored by Rank Hovis McDougall, after it was gifted to the National Trust for Scotland by the Gray family in 1950.

In 1949, the former 36-roomed mansion house at Smeaton-Hepburn estate was demolished. It had been the main residence of the Buchan-Hepburn family since 1793, but was vacant at the time their estate was sold (1934). While it had been requisitioned during the war to accommodate evacuated children, it had later become roofless and was in a state of decay. The surrounding estate is still regarded as a historical landscape with a listed walled garden.